BEAUMONT, Texas -- Before he started a recent concealed-handgun licensing class, the pastor set out some of his guns at the front of the church hall for students to examine: the Rossi .357 he calls “Old Bessie,” Ruger .22 and .380, Taurus 9 millimeter, a Regent .45 and an AR-15 assault rifle.
“How I got involved with this—it saved my life,” the Rev. James McAbee told the group of about 100 students gathered at the hall after visiting a nearby gun range for the target shooting portion of the 10-hour class. At the end, they would have to pass a written test and background check.
He explained to them that after he used his .380 to foil a burglary two years ago at his East Texas church, Lighthouse Worship Center, people around town started calling him “the pistol-packing pastor.”
In Friday’s Los Angeles Times, McAbee, a father of three, talks about how his past also shaped his attitude about guns.
Now he carries his gun concealed even in church, he told his students that day. He considers self-defense scriptural and firearms “the greatest equalizer,” he said. But he cautioned them against getting over-confident when they “feel that piece of power.”
“We’re teaching you to stop a threat. This is a last-resort effort—we’re not freelance cops,” he said.
He advised them on how to keep their firearms concealed, better secure their homes and if they hear gunfire, run. The best way to win a gunfight, according to McAbee: “Avoid it.”
“You have to have necessity to use deadly force,” he told his students.
He warned them about accidental shootings—his own mother, a police officer, accidentally shot and partially paralyzed herself, he said. He also reviewed the state’s gun laws with them, including where they can and can’t carry guns concealed. For instance, some Texas school boards allowed staff to carry guns to work concealed after school shootings last year, he said, but many do not.
Some of the students were school staff, whom McAbee allows to take the $50 class for free.
“All sorts of things are going on today: school shootings, mall shootings, movie theaters,” said student Lashonda Lewis, 33, a kindergarten teacher, “We could save a life.”
Connie Cornelsen, 56, a retired teacher, said she took the class to better protect herself after last year’s school shootings.
“I’m not a gun person,” she said. “I would have normally not done this, but him being a pastor, it made it easier.”
McAbee tried to reassure his students, many of whom talked about the school shootings and said they were scared for their safety.
“I’m not teaching fear here today. But I’m not putting a target on my back either,” McAbee said.
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